Actor-writer Simon Bradbury admits in his note on his play The Illustrious Invalid that it’s a challenge to turn his subject matter into comedy; after all, his writing is inspired by a pretty tragic event, the death of 17th-century French playwright Molière shortly after he suffered a tuberculosis-induced hemorrhage onstage while playing the title character in his own play, The Imaginary Invalid.
For many in the audience on opening night it was: challenge met and bested! Your Tatler was surrounded by spectators delighting in the boisterous shenanigans that Bradbury sets in motion among the members of Molière’s troupe as they attempt to keep him from trodding the boards in his consumptive condition. The action, which takes place in Molière’s dressing room backstage, not only has the fast-paced energy but also many of the devices of the farce, including slamming doors, swapped identities, hasty concealments of people and objects, and characters getting caught in their own web of lies. And the talented ensemble assembled by director Andrew Paul is all-in for the spirited hijinks and madcappery that await poor Molière on his final night on earth.
A running gag in this production involves an enormous syringe wielded by troupe member Dufresne (Matt DeCaro), who regularly plays a doctor on stage and who has so internalized his line of stage business that he believes he can heal the ailing Molière (played by Bradbury). His proposed cure, which he attempts to execute with the help of Molière’s maid, La Forest (Derdriu Ring), is to “purge” the actor-playwright. This is a fate Molière manages to avoid only by swapping identities with the eager but hapless younger actor Baron (Michael Patrick Trimm), who also happens to be shtupping Molière’s wife Armande (Joanna Strapp) on the side. Further complicating Molière’s last day on earth are the Musketeer Le Tournier (David Whalen, in one of four roles) and the hump-backed priest Levere (Tony Bingham), both of whom bring high-minded and self-righteous moral objections to Molière’s life and work. The former barges into the dressing room only to interrupt – and express outrage at the apparent homoerotics of – Dufresne’s initial attempt to administer his obscene enema; the latter pops in and out of the action via the dressing room privy.
Enemas & privies: who knew Molière was so obsessed with poop and poopers? As the saying goes: people who like this sort of thing will find it precisely the sort of thing they like. You may have guessed by now that this is not exactly Your Tatler’s cuppa comic tea. Indeed, my funny bone was far more tickled by the occasional sprinkling of meta-theatrical humor, as when the put-upon David Whalen acknowledges, in an aside to the audience, that he is a “dogsbody” not only within the world of the play, but also in The Illustrious Invalid itself, “playing multiple roles to serve the plot.” I could have wished for more of that, and less of the scatalogical humor that predominates. But as in so many things, taste in comedy is subjective: if you’re looking for the kind of tonic that only a good fart joke can provide, this may be just what the doctor has ordered.
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Speaking of tonics: your Tatler is about to take a much-needed break! But many invitations have landed in my inbox, for performances that will take place while this blog is on pause, and you should check them out! They include:
On June 15, Chamber Music Pittsburgh will present the award-winning Cuban-jazz fusion band Hugo Cruz and Caminos at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh’s Northside at 7:30 p.m. This pay-what-you-wish outdoor concert will bring Cruz’s rhythmic stylings to the museum’s lobby, where the doors will stay open to Garden, the permanent installation by artist Winifred Ann Lutz that explores the urban and natural history of the Mattress Factory’s courtyard.
From June 16-18, RealTime Interventions’ hit concert cabaret ANGELMAKERS: SONGS FOR FEMALE SERIAL KILLERS will be re-imagined at Pittsburgh Winery in the historic Strip District. This brand new iteration of one of RealTime’s anchoring productions will feature beloved original lead performer Milia Ayache from Beirut, Lebanon, in addition to the voices of eight other utterly unique Pittsburgh-based female-identifying vocalists, including Vietnamese pop star, asylee and activist Mai Khôi and Pittsburgh theater favorite Hazel LeRoy. Accompanied by original ANGELMAKERS musicians Zorahna and Michele Dunlap and directed by Cynthia Croot, the cast also includes the talents of Angela George, Angela Hsu, Julianna Austin, Linette Taylor, Meg Booth, and Samantha A. Camp.
From June 16-19, the premiere production of the new Prime Stage Sprouts series will feature The Amazing Lemonade Girl, which is a regional premiere. The true story by James DeVita was inspired by the life of Alexandra Flynn Scott, whose illness inspired her to start a front yard lemonade stand to raise funds to help other kids. Based on the book written by her parents, this regional premiere shows how a single person can change the world one act or even one cup at a time.
On June 17, Hiawatha Project presents a new play reading IN OUR TIME/Stories from the Front Lines of the Medical Fields by Anya Martin. Tickets are free but pre-registration is suggested.
And from June 17-July 2, Off the Wall productions in Carnegie presents Not My Revolution. The 90-minute play, written and performed by Elizabeth Elias Huffman, examines the very real consequences of forced displacement, and the judgments passed on two women whose destiny has been determined by appearances and society’s expectations of them.